The whole story
This is the better written, wider, fuller, deeper history of the game than the Anglocentric one by HS Altham 44 years earlier, in 1926. In the introduction CLR James writes: "This is a type of history which I have never read before, and whose forbears either in method or material, as far as I know, do not exist."
"It is my purpose to try and tell the full history of the game, and without confining the survey to one class, or one section, or indeed, one country. In order to achieve this much has to be said which will be found in no previous history of the game," Bowen writes. He traces a reference to cricket in France in 1478, in "criquet", and even if the British prime minister John Major has dismissed such a connection in his recent history of the game, it does take it forward from the "creag" in the wardrobe accounts of Edward I in 1299-1300. But it is not the research alone, impressive as that is, or the anecdotal evidence that Bowen presents that is impressive. What gives the book its unique character is the manner in which events across continents are placed in context.
Thus, the Golden Age (1894-1914) is called that not just because of the skills of the players of that period - WG Grace, Ranjitsinhji, CB Fry, Archie MacLaren, Syd Barnes - or for the fact that cricket was being better organised centrally, but also because it saw the great age of Philadelphia cricket as well as the establishment of national championships in other countries. Cricket, in fact, was "being taken seriously" everywhere.
Bowen's refusal to give in to romantic folk histories of the game is made clear in his treatment of Hambledon, often called the "cradle of cricket". Despite its short-lived eminence, says Bowen, "the Hambledon club has achieved an importance in the minds of cricket lovers far beyond its merits". Elsewhere he says, "One does not put a lusty young man into a cradle."
A major strength of the book is the "Chronological Appendices" at the end. The first part deals with dates in cricket history till 1850, the second with the period 1850-1970 in the cricket-playing countries, and the third with the dates of the first matches by English counties. We learn from these notes that the tea interval was first mentioned in a match in 1892, that in 1942 Indian-made cricket balls were sanctioned for use in Ranji Trophy matches, and so on. This section of the book alone is worth its weight in gold.
From the book
"It has been the custom to think of the modern period of cricket as starting in 1864 and it is difficult to find a more suitable date... overarm bowling was legalised, it was as though there and then the game became what we have now... the first overseas tour to four of the countries which would be playing first-class cricket against England had taken place or were about to be played... but the greatest of all was the rise of WG Grace, who became a folk hero just like Pele in Brazilian football...
Cricket: A History of Its Growth and Development Throughout the World
by Rowland Bowen
Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1970
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore